By Ashley Amon and Andrew Daar
Season 2, Episodes 21 and 22: “An Affair To Forget” and “Agents In America, Part III”
Original Airdates: May 2, 1995, May 9, 1995
Andrew: Bebe Glazer is a sociopath. She has no regard for the feelings of those she deems unimportant or below her, and she gleefully performs crazy stunts for the purpose of getting what she wants. At the end of the episode, her actions have so terrified and alarmed Frasier that he exclaims that she should be seeing a therapist. My question is, why did it take so long for him to figure that out?
“Agents In America, Part III” is about how Bebe renegotiates Frasier’s contract, which she finally pulls off by feigning a suicide attempt and changing her mind after getting “counseled” by Frasier, thus showing how great of a psychiatrist he is. The events of the episode, however, indicate the opposite, that Frasier’s skills as a therapist and student of human behavior barely qualify him to give anecdotal advice to a friend. Frasier loathes Bebe’s phony personality, but keeps her around because she is an effective agent. He even returns her phoniness, acting like he loves seeing her and tolerating her cruelty to Daphne. Before his revelation that she requires a therapist, he even, approvingly, notes that “what Bebe wants, Bebe gets.” What does this say about Frasier? He puts up with her because she is looking out for his bank account. When Frasier is around Bebe, he forgets his ethics; he forgets his belief in the idea that contracts should be adhered to, he participates in underhanded negotiation techniques, and he wants to put off telling a post-coital Bebe, whom he thinks has romantic feelings for him (as if a sociopath could have empathetic feelings for someone that isn’t herself), that they can’t continue their sexual relationship until after he has used her to increase his salary. Frasier is usually fairly decent, but how much of this behavior is a result of Bebe’s toxicity infecting him, and how much of it is latent traits brought to the surface by an encouraging presence?
“An Affair to Forget” is premised on another questionable concept: that Niles and Maris truly love each other. Niles is infatuated with Daphne, to the point of neglecting Maris if Daphne suggests that he might be able to do something to earn her attention, and Maris, much like Bebe, seems incapable of caring for anyone that isn’t her. But who cares that the idea that Niles and Maris Cranes’ marriage is solid is preposterous when the episode is as funny as it is? The details of Gunnar’s love letter which unequivocally implicate Maris as the object of his affection are hilarious in their terrifying imagery. Daphne constantly walking in at the wrong point in a conversation never ceases to amuse. And, in the episode’s masterful comic setpiece, Niles challenges Gunnar to a swordfight, but requires Frasier to translate his statements into Spanish so that Marta the maid can translate them into German for Gunnar. (Marta, you see, worked for a German family in Guatemala right after World War II.)
Ashley: “An Affair to Forget” is hilarious but I agree with you about the true love between Maris and Niles. They always seem like they exist in a marriage, and that changing it (or ending it) would be uncomfortable for both. Do they actually love each other? Not in a romantic way, no. Niles and Maris exist together in the early seasons of Frasier. Gunnar’s attempt at an affair with Maris is comical (and just plain weird) but it challenges Niles’ way of life. He’s still infatuated with Daphne obviously from his reaction to Pitcairn Island Daphne and he loves Maris in a comfortable homey way. Watching Niles fall apart at Frasier’s door was funny but this scene is the beginning for Niles: he’s always so quiet and reserved, almost demure when it comes to confrontation. This attempted affair challenges Niles’ manhood and after prodding from Martin, he decides to challenge Gunnar.
The Gunnar-Marta-Frasier Translation Wheel is just plain awesome. I remember watching this episode when it originally aired and at the time I was taking Spanish. I was able to keep up with Marta’s Spanish and giggled at Frasier’s “shoes” flub, the flub which starts the swordfight.
Bebe is just delicious, isn’t she? I love a good sociopath and Niles’ description of her as “Lady Macbeth without the sincerity” is spot on. Agents are cutthroat, I get it. Entertainment is a tough business and so it actually suits someone with a sociopathic personality to thrive in such an environment. Bebe has complete control over her emotions (I envy her that) and knows exactly how to change her personality to suit each person she interacts with. Because of this chameleon-like ability, she’s able to play Frasier like a Stradivarius. In later episodes, the writers just go for the gold and imply Bebe is actually Lucifer (“Where There’s Smoke There’s Fired”, “The Devil and Dr. Phil”, etc.). Frasier is still a good guy, he has his ethics intact, but Bebe is just that good. I don’t even think Frasier is aware of her puppetmaster sensibilities. But isn’t that what you want in an agent?
Andrew: You make a good point; how much of Niles’ fighting for Maris is due to his feelings for her and how much is the result of him feeling personally challenged? The series has previously dealt with cheating spouses and the feelings of inadequacy and anger that come from feeling like you aren’t good enough. Martin continued to love Hester when she cheated on him, so for him, there was a definite betrayal. Niles and Frasier, on the other hand, were cuckolded in less loving relationships – Frasier at the end of his marriage to Lilith and Niles in a marriage based seemingly only on money and convenience. Niles may be fighting more for himself than for his marriage. Learning from Gunnar by way of Marta translated through Frasier that Maris loves him resulted in the normally tepid couple getting frisky in the sensory deprivation tank and probably helped Niles stick out his marriage for the next few seasons.
Bebe is a great agent in terms of getting results for her client, and she is a delight to watch. I wrote down some notes about how her bluff-the-client tactics violates her role as an agent, but the point of Bebe is that she does not operate the way people are supposed to. She has her own view of how society functions, and money and fame are her driving forces. Certainly not someone I’d want to associate with in real life, but she makes Frasier’s life complicated in the best way.
Here’s something that stuck with me, though. When Frasier and Niles are discussing her over coffee the morning after their night together, Frasier says to Niles that he worries for her because strong women are often quite vulnerable and in fact use their strength as a mask or shield. Tell me your thoughts on that, because, as you could probably guess, I found it quite insulting and a gross misreading of human behavior.
Ashley: I really don’t like the “strong women use strength as a cover-up” argument. What it does is basically strip down strength of will to simply a “mask”, a lie, because women are actually fragile and delicate. Okay, some women are but so are some men. I consider myself a pretty strong person (doesn’t matter to me that I’m a woman, it’s just a human attribute) and sure, I can vulnerable. But anyone can under the right circumstances. That’s just life. Could Bebe be confused and sad about Frasier’s behavior? Of course, but it has nothing to do with her being a woman. Rejection sucks no matter who you are.
The Crane men all have histories of cheating women. And God bless them, they’re a forgiving lot. Frasier stays friends with Lilith (though I don’t know if they would if it weren’t for Frederick), Niles helps Maris when she’s in need in a later season, and Martin sticks it out with Hester. Tom Durant put it so well when he said he’d “sleep better with a continent between us” in The Matchmaker and that’s the kind of thinking I understand more. But in Niles’ situation in this episode, he assumes that due to Gunnar’s looks (he’s not too bad, really) and fencing-man-of-action masculinity, Maris is easy prey. She just turns out to be innocent this time around.
What do you think was going on with Gretchen and Gunnar? He seemed genuinely concerned about her when Frasier mentions her name, and before Marta screws up with her poor pronoun usage.
Andrew: Most likely, Gunnar felt some degree of shame over his attempted betrayal (or, possibly not even attempted, as he proved himself to be ready, willing, and able) of Gretchen. That, or he worried that he’d screwed up his relationships with his wife, his would-be lover, and his client. He was not written as a complex character, but was more a plot device in human form. Were he a regular character, this would be a problem, but as a story driver for this particular episode, that is not a huge problem. We know just enough about him for the purposes of the episode, and the results were, as we have agreed, fantastic.
“Not Quite Human Woman” should be a band name.
See also: “Strudel Boy.”